Do your awesome, talented team members sometimes seem like they can't get anything done? Do you have a team of folks with high potential, who never seem to get ahead, nor get better? Do you make training classes available to enable your team to learn as much as possible about the latest tools and techniques in their domain, but do not see awesome results? Or, perhaps these circumstances apply to you personally. I hear about these patterns often. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that the problem here is actually not that complicated, and neither is finding a solution. The problem and the solution, however, may surprise you. It's simply an issue of confidence.
Human-beings subconsciously create self-fulfilling prophecies for themselves. They may be actually very good at what they do, but if they do not often (or ever) win at what they do, they tend to lack self-confidence and ultimately fail again and again and again. To make things even a bit worse, many organizations do not provide encouraging support to help remedy this feeling. This makes pending success seem harder and further from reach. So, how do you overcome this for yourself or for your organization? Another simple answer: WIN! Then after that, win again… eventually, the problem will be solved.
But how does one get started winning if they’re already in the non-winning spiral? I suggest you work with your team members and company to follow these 4 steps:
- From a company standpoint, make not winning completely ok. It is ok to try to win but fail, as long as you learn.
- From a team member standpoint, recognize that there is a problem with confidence.
- Live in the present; envision the future.
- Realize that “difficult” and “impossible” are two different things. Nothing is really impossible.
Make not winning completely OK
A problem I often see right from the get go is a company culture that puts too much focus on analyzing plans up front for risk. If somebody tries something and fails, their up front risk-planning activities are immediately reviewed. If they failed because of a lack of due-diligence, they are at fault. This type of thinking is a major factor in employees not taking key steps that may ultimately lead to success. A common criticism I hear to NOT doing a ton of due-diligence up front is that the cost of failure is too high. Keep in mind, however, that there is no evidence that more up front planning decreases the risk of failure, but that learning and changing the plan along the way based upon your findings will certainly reduce risk and the likelihood of failure. So instead, break down the potential risk into subsets, and try one at a time. You may gain some small wins that will feed a larger overall win. If you incur some losses, they will be small and will allow an opportunity to change within the grand scheme of the effort.
Recognize there is a problem with confidence
This is actually the easy part for an individual to do for themselves. A person may convey confidence when they interact with others, but deep inside, that person knows if they are not confident. They will manifest this feeling by hesitating to accept certain challenges, and too often, they'll select tasks that they have done before and do not challenge them. That's because they do have enough confidence for these easy tasks. So how you recognize this problem? You could tell someone, or be told directly, as I find that is often the best way to coach people. In this scenario, however, you may want to try a more subtle approach that leads up to this direct communication. Perhaps showing them this blog post would be a good start (wink wink), or recommending articles or books related to the subject.
Live in the present, but envision the future
I recently heard a story about elephants at a circus. (I actually heard this story twice in one day, so it must have been a sign that I should share the story!) These elephants are restrained from getting away by a small shackle around one leg. These elephants are certainly large and strong enough that they could simply walk away and break that shackle, but they do not do this. Why? Because they have been shackled like this since they were very young and not strong enough to get away. They do not realize that they now have the ability to overcome this restraint. So the circumstances of the past are affecting their present ability.
Have you ever witnessed people feeling they cannot do something because they could not do it in the past? Here's a hypothetical example related to trust. If you've worked at a company for many years that does not trust people. All of a sudden, they say they are going to adopt new mindsets and practices (hmm, lets say “Agile”) that will include trusting people. Will anybody at the company really believe in that trust? Or will employees still act as they did in the past when trust was lacking?
It is important to live in the present, and mind the limitations of the present and not the past. Even better, think about the possibilities of the future!
"Difficult" and "impossible" are two different things
Certainly there are many things in life that are difficult. When folks let that allow them to think they are impossible, however, a self-fulfilling prophecy is created that makes the task be impossible when, in fact, it is just difficult. By instead recognizing that a task is simply hard and not impossible, a person can start believing it can be done and succeed.
When you witness your team not being able to get ahead, think about their confidence level. The situation may be that they really can do something if they just overcome the inner voices telling them that they cannot. By the way, I wrote this mostly to speak to team leaders and how to recognize and fix this for others. But it would be a good idea to take a look in the mirror and first see if any of these ideas apply to you, too.
Lastly, refer to the fifth principle behind the Agile Manifesto: "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give individuals the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. Give individuals the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done." It seems to me the thought behind this principle is to foster and maintain self-confidence through trust, and that will ultimately lead to motivated individuals who win!
The experience needed to do. And to lead.
At Summa, we bring a wealth of technical knowledge to the table. But we also have deep project leadership experience, in both agile coaching and architecture roles. Whether you need help with your architecture of the future or motivating your team, Summa can step in to help lead the way!